My Long List of At Leasts

Hollyrenee At least I knew enough to wear a skirt that night, at least I knew enough to shave my legs and at least I knew when to throw in the towel. Of course, my knowledge came at a price, the price every girl pays the first time she learns where her “at least’s” lie.

We had been seeing each other fairly consistently going on 2 weeks when I noticed myself thinking of our relationship in terms of “at least’s.” At least he opens doors for me; at least he has a good job, at least he texts me often. But he was not my usual type and he was, frankly, throwing me for a bit of a loop. No tattoos, no piercings, he wasn’t in a band, he didn’t appear to be manic; you get the idea.

“At least he dresses well,” I told Flo as I stirred my vodka soda, “and at least he lives Downtown.” “At least?” Flo inquired, “Are these qualities a consolation prize of some kind? Why so many “at least’s” all of a sudden?” I looked at her piercing blue eyes and she was whisked away by the sound of a bell, her drink bell. My friend Flo was a bartender and many of our conversations took place in small increments like this. Sure, it was frustrating when either of us was trying to spit out a good story, but also poignant when, like tonight, it allowed me time to try and formulate an answer to her question. Yah, why so many at least’s, I thought to myself, when did that happen?

“His knowledge of American slang isn’t great and I often have to repeat myself or explain a joke, but at least when he smiles it melts my heart. And while he doesn’t share my love of music at least he likes to hear all of my concert stories,” I quickly told Flo as she delivered drinks to the couple sitting next to me. She smiled and then she was gone again. I looked over at them, this pair with the matching house reds and wondered, when does the “at least” mean that you’ve settled and when does it mean you’ve found a good “trade off man,” that is, a man that may not reflect everything on your list of relationship demands, but at least he compensates in ways that don’t piss you off. Hell, this is why I dress sexy and shave my legs, right? Because I know from experience that men are saying, “She may be a bit bawdy and she has a loud laugh, but at least her legs look amazing in that skirt.”

“At least’s aren’t necessarily a way of settling; they can, I think represent ones dating maturity,” I told Flo when she came back over to my end of the bar, “Sure, he didn’t kiss me on our first date, but at least he held my hand. I think that’s sweet.” My delivery sounded forced, almost defensive, as if I were on trial for my at least’s.

This knee jerk response came from the fact that there have been many an “at least” that I have uttered whose repercussions where eventually fatal. “He may have used the rent money to buy new speakers for our apartment, but at least we have great sex.” This actually happened not once, but twice to me, with the same man. I watched myself as if in an out of body experience as I justified his behavior the second time; “He may have used the rent money to install a new stereo in my car, but at least he gives good head.”

I would like to say that these type of at least’s carry very little weight with me these days, that I’ve matured, but in truth just last week on my birthday this man and I finally had a PG 13 moment. Yes, 2 weeks in and we are at a Goonies rating; but at least he wants to take it slow, right?! So there we were, lying on my couch when he peels himself off me and says abruptly, “I have to go now.” I was stunned. I thought for sure his next words would have been, “let’s take it to the bedroom.” “Oh, ok, is there something wrong?” I tried to sound casual. “No, no in fact everything is quite right,” he smiled. That smile kills me. “It’s just that, well, my mum is visiting from England. She arrived today and I really should go and check on her. I told her I’d be home over 2 hours ago.” “Oh, of course!” I replied, sitting up, trying to tame my hair, “I had no idea. You should have told me sooner. Yes, of course you should go.” I hoped that I was hiding my disappointment well.

We kissed one last time at the threshold of my front door and as he started to walk down the stairs he turned to me and said, “I’m not sure when I will see you again because my mum will be in town for at least 2 months, but at least we finally kissed, right?” At least.

About the author

Holly’s first novella, A Horse Named Ralph, was released to critical acclaim in the spring of 1984; she had just turned 8. She followed up her success the next year with a collection of haiku poems whose main focus was on the color pink, bubblegum ice cream, the time school got out and her favorite book; Dear Mr. Henshaw. That same year, Holly won the school Spelling Bee in the final round by successfully spelling the word hippopotamus.
Continually drawn to the world of words and stories, Holly later studied in New York and was a part of the Teachers and Writers Collaborative. She graduated from Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts, with a BA in Education and Urban Studies.
Holly now lives and works in Santa Barbara and spends much of her time writing about the seemingly endless awkward moments that make up her daily life.